Many travellers regard Aurangabad as little more than a convenient, though largely uninteresting, place in which to kill time on the way to Ellora and Ajanta, yet given a little effort, this city can compensate for its architectural shortcomings. Scattered around its ragged fringes, the remains of fortifications, gateways, domes and minarets – including those of the most ambitious Mughal tomb garden in western India, the Bibi-ka-Maqbara – bear witness to an illustrious imperial past; the small but fascinating crop of rock-cut Buddhist caves, huddled along the flanks of the flat-topped, sandy yellow hills to the north, are remnants of even more ancient occupation.
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Modern Aurangabad is one of India’s fastest growing commercial and industrial centres, specializing in car, soft drink and beer production. It’s an upbeat place, boasting plenty of restaurants, bars and interesting shops in the old city. Easy day-trips include the dramatic fort of Daulatabad, and, just a little further along the Ellora road, the tomb of Emperor Aurangzeb at the Muslim village of Khuldabad.
Dominating the horizon 13km northwest of Aurangabad, the awesome hilltop citadel of Daulatabad crowns a massive conical volcanic outcrop whose sides have been shaped into a sheer 60m wall of granite. Not least for the panoramic views from the top of the hill, Daulatabad makes a rewarding pause en route to or from the caves at Ellora, 17km northwest.
Nestled on a saddle of high ground, Khuldabad, also known as Rauza, is an old walled town famous for a wonderful crop of onion-domed tombs. Among the Muslim notables deemed worthy of a patch of earth in this most hallowed of burial grounds (“Khuldabad” means “Heavenly Abode”) were the Emperor Aurangzeb himself, who raised the town’s granite battlements and seven fortified gateways, a couple of nizams, and a fair few of the town’s Chishti founding fathers. Aurangzeb’s tomb lies inside a whitewashed dargah, midway between the North and South gates. The grave itself is a humble affair decorated only by the fresh flower petals scattered by visitors, open to the elements instead of sealed in stone. The devout emperor insisted that it be paid for not out of the royal coffers, but with the money he raised in the last years of life by selling his own hand-quilted white skullcaps. Aurangzeb chose this as his final resting place primarily because of the presence, next door, of Sayeed Zain-ud-din’s tomb, which occupies a quadrangle separating Aurangzeb’s grave from those of his wife and second son, Azam Shah. Locked away behind a small door in the mausoleum is Khuldabad’s most jealously guarded relic, the Robe of the Prophet, revealed to the public once a year on the twelfth day of the Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal, when the tomb attracts worshippers from all over India. Directly opposite Zain-ud-din’s tomb is the Dargah of Sayeed Burhan-ud-din, a Chishti missionary buried here in 1334. The shrine is said to contain hairs from the Prophet’s beard, which magically increase in number when they are counted each year.